Governor McDonnell, Governor Northam, Speaker Cox and other bipartisan leaders in government, education, faith, business, and community groups call for 2019 to be a year of Racial Reconciliation and understanding in Virginia

Leaders announce the creation of Virginians for Reconciliation and outline healing mission of community-based action items designed to foster better communication, more understanding, honest dialogue, and increased civility across the Commonwealth.

 Richmond-  In an afternoon news conference at the Pocahontas building, former Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R), and current governor Ralph S. Northam (D), with Speaker of the House Kirk Cox( R), Delegate Delores McQuinn (D), Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney(D), along with former Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly, Rev. Benjamin Campbell, and Rev. David Bailey, issued a unifying call for racial reconciliation and healing in 2019. This year marks the 400th anniversary of the first General Assembly session in the new Virginia colony, but also the arrival of the first enslaved Africans at Fort Monroe, Virginia in August 1619.  

The group started small meetings among leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences in the spring of 2018. They focused on how to honor the 400th anniversary of these historic events while sparking new honest discussion, fostering greater respect and understanding among the races, and generating a renewed commitment to relationship-building actions in the Commonwealth. 

The leaders cited both the Bibleand founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution as the basis for the American principles of equality and justice. They noted the unfortunate irony in our Commonwealth’s history. Virginia has been the site of to African enslavement, the Civil War, Jim Crow, massive resistance, and the recent events in Charlottesville. However, 20th century Virginia brought walkouts of segregated schools, promotion of civil rights, and election of the nation’s first black governor, as signs of progress and promise. They agreed that this was the year Virginia should seek to be a model for reconciliation for the nation, while recognizing the many groups who have toiled for years toward greater respect and reconciliation.  The mission is simple: encourage Virginians from all walks of life to get to know, respect and care for one another more, break down barriers of prejudice and mistrust, and build a stronger basis to solve problems for the common good. 

Governor Ralph Northam said, “What a great opportunity this is to bring people together from different races and religions and talk about our History both good and bad.”

Governor Bob McDonnell said, “As a diverse and prosperous state, Virginia is uniquely positioned to be a leader in our often divided nation in promoting racial reconciliation and respect and civility. Closer relationships mean more trust and more problem solving for the common good. I hope all Virginians will get out of their comfort zone this year and make a difference.”

Speaker Kirk Cox said, “I am thrilled to be apart of this. The Majority Leader and I are going to be walking the slave trail and I find that very meaningful.”  

Delegate Delores McQuinn said, “It is of the utmost importance for leaders to step forward to demonstrate positive solutions. If leaders fail to accept the responsibility to lead in the area of reconciliation, then the people will be slow in moving forward with positive changes.” 

The Virginians for Reconciliation group consists of people from all walks of life. The membership includes former Virginia Congressman James Moran and Tom Davis, former university presidents Dr. Edward Ayres and Dr. Keith Miller, notable Ministers Bishop B Courtney McBath, the Reverend Jon Barton, Ben Campbell, Manny Pena and Vernon Gordon, the chairman of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce Charles Meyer, and current and former elected officials Mayor Levar Stoney, former Attorney General Mark Earley, and former delegate Paul Harris, among others. (See complete listing attached). 

The group also announced Honorary Advisory Board members including Virginia Beach mayor Bob Dyer, former national  NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, former Miss America and CBN television host Terry Meeuwsen, and Virginia Supreme Court Justice William Mims. (See complete listing attached).

 Virginians For Reconciliation co-founder (with McDonnell), and former Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth Janet Kelly said, “The hard work of truth-telling and the hard work of truth-listening are worth it. The humility and empathy that it takes to step in this arena are worth it. And they are worth it because every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.”

VFR Co-founder David Bailey, Executive Director of Arrabon, said, “It is important to define our terms and when we use the word reconciliation, we acknowledge that the brokenness of our past is affecting our present realities and we need to work together to repair this brokenness.” 

Reverend Ben Campbell, Pastoral Associate at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, stated, “I believe that the future of Virginia depends on our completion of the task of racial equity. It is the foundation both of our social contract and of our economy.  But more than that, racial equity lies at the center of our moral being.”

The group outlined a series of activities that it recommends and will promote around the Commonwealth in 2019. The activities include walking the Richmond Slave Trail along the James River to the Devil’s Half Acre site at Lumpkin’s Jail, joining a statewide reading group to study and discuss thought provoking books such as The Color of Law, and attending the anticipated groundbreaking of the National Slavery Museum in Shockoe Bottom, a partnership of the Commonwealth with the City of Richmond.

The faith community will lead a series of activities to include a pastor’s pulpit exchange program to address “America’s Most Divided Hour” on Sunday mornings, and lead prayer services and ecumenical prayer for racial reconciliation and greater understanding in the nation.

Governor Northam today executed a proclamation calling 2019 the year of Racial Reconciliation in Virginia, and Delegate Delores McQuinn has introduced a similar resolution in the General Assembly.  Both the Governor and Speaker Cox have agreed to lead delegations in a slave trail walk during the calendar year. Governor McDonnell and the group strongly encourage leaders in business, government, education, faith-based institutions, the arts, music, press and community groups to select a date to walk the trail and reflect upon the experience. The group also recommends that universities host panels with distinguished speakers on the issues of slavery, race, reconciliation, and civility on its campuses, that the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and various minorities Chambers of Commerce work on projects together, that appropriate films and music dealing with race and reconciliation be promoted in schools and theaters followed by discussion, and that a “Reconciliation Points of Light” program be instituted to recognize leadership in this area.


Virginians for Reconciliation acknowledges the contributions of Secretary Nancy Rodrigues and the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation for its leadership and tireless staff support in helping to formulate the ideas and planning for the group’s work.  McDonnell said a leading partner of the group during this year will be the international organization Initiatives of Change USA based in Richmond, which said, it is “pleased to welcome this bipartisan initiative that will magnify across the Commonwealth the work of IOC in the Richmond region through the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation program.” A website and social media presence concerning these activities will be up and running soon.


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For further information contact Virginians for Reconciliation acting director Paul Hedges, Esquire at 757.305.7081 or